Night Fishermen

We are still getting early morning visits from the Heron, fishing for frogs in the pond:

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It has an unexpected strip of black and white feathers running down the front of its neck:

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For the last two nights, we were flabbergasted to see that it was fishing through the night as well, taking advantage of the full moon and the clear skies. The times shown on the photos are accurate:

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This doesn’t seem to be quite cricket to me and I will be pleased once the nights darken again. The Heron is a silent and ruthlessly successful assassin and I am beginning to worry that it will be completely emptying the pond of frogs.

However – there’s more – it seems it is not just frogs. I have photographic evidence of it taking four newts during this morning’s fishing session:

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Like Gussie, in P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, who had a passion for newts and kept them in the bath, I too have a real soft spot for them and I find it difficult to watch them being taken like this. I have to console myself with the fact that there is a lot of vegetation in that pond for them to hide under.

This is not the first time that we have seen birds hunting amphibians at night. Here is a  Tawny Owl from a few days ago – we are delighted because we haven’t seen one for months, although it was a shame there was dew on the camera lens:

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But last summer, we got this shot of a Tawny at the hide pond – presumably hunting for frogs:

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I think that this fox below has been raiding night fishermen of the human kind down on the beach. This looks to me like a piece of fish that has been cut up for bait:

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Walking around the meadows this morning in the February sunshine, there was a Lark ascending in full, glorious song above my head. It then descended again into the grass. Of course I had the wrong lens on my camera but that happens so often I don’t know why I even comment on it:

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Skylark.

All winter we have had a flock of House Sparrows feeding on the red millet that we have been putting out in feeders.  Their cheery chirruping from the shrubbery has been a real feature of that part of the meadows this year. We have now seen them starting to gather bedding material and so have just taken delivery of this Sparrow terrace:

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Sparrows like to nest colonially and so it will be interesting to see if they like it.

Here are a few other recent photos from the meadows that I like:

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Very rare to see the Badgers here out and about in daylight:

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So much of a Badger’s diet is made up of juicy worms that they seldom need to drink:

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The main reason we bought the wood was to nurture and study the habitat and wildlife. However, we also want it to be a place where family and friends can come and immerse themselves in nature. Maybe even grandchildren someday! Last weekend one of our sons, who is very interested in bushcraft,  visited the wood and tried out his new hammock:

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Well, we all tried it out – it is a completely enclosed zipped cocoon with a mesh top and a roof above as protection against the weather. It is also extremely comfortable. We could  envisage ourselves waking up on a beautiful May morning , the dawn chorus in surround-sound, having had a good night’s sleep in the Great Outdoors  – we have now promptly ordered two more for ourselves. I am not a keen camper but I really think that this is a way to enjoy spending a whole night out in the woods.

 

 

 

Herons and Frogs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrogs have started mobilising, gathering for what is one of the first wildlife spectacles of the year here. Below is a trail camera photo from last year when frog numbers reached their peak in early March:

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There are nothing like those numbers yet but the increased activity that there is has not gone unnoticed:

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Grey Heron fish mainly at dawn and dusk and indeed this is when we have been seeing this bird for the past few days. Yesterday morning we saw it flying off with a frog in its beak. This morning it was back again and we were able to watch it from afar through our scope catching two frogs for breakfast:

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No frog spawn here yet. Freshwater Habitats Trust run a spawn survey each year and the sightings they report always start in the warmer west of the country and sweep east over several weeks. Here is the most recent map that they have posted to Facebook:

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Another happening early in the year is Badger mating immediately after the birth of their cubs. This is not the first year that they have been kind enough to do this in front of our camera but I was certainly most surprised to see a third badger involved.

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The mating couple are the two mature Badgers but the badger backed up against them is the 2017 cub. I read that female Badgers start to ovulate in the Spring of their second year and this is exactly how old she now is and so I suppose that she is hoping for cubs next year. The male, aka Scarface, is not her father.

Here is Scarface on a wet night when he has been transformed into a very stripey Badger.

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And a beautiful, healthy wet Fox:

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There are a lot of Linnets on the strip at the moment eating the millet and oil seed rape seed that we are putting down through the winter:

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The bird ringer came today to try to catch them but he caught very few. He thinks that his net is too high and they can see it silhouetted against the sky. He is going to borrow a half-height net and try again next week.

I like this photo of communally bathing Woodpigeons:

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In my last post, I suggested that this animal below might be a baby badger that had come out of the sett while its mother was out feeding:

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When I finally got round to looking at my backlog of videos that were taken by another camera close by, I saw that it had captured an animal that I now think is a feral Ferret lolloping along the cliff path. This is the same animal and is not an early sighting of a baby Badger.

The bird ringer went to the wood for the first time yesterday. He was hoping to catch Blue Tits for a survey he is doing for the BTO. Well, he caught 27 of them so that pleased him. He also caught this Marsh Tit, which is a rare bird for Kent. It’s confusing because it does live in woods not marshes.

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He also caught a young male Sparrowhawk:

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He took this photo while holding the bird by the legs with the other. However, it did then peck him and, not surprisingly given its beak, drew blood.

We have been noticing a wonderful crescendo of bird song building up these days as spring approaches. Particularly beautiful is this Robin who is often to be found singing his little heart out on the top of this tree:

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Early February Round Up

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It was a glorious day yesterday – cold but sunny, crisp and still. Here is a Kestrel perched high looking over the meadows in the last hour of daylight.

Today couldn’t be more different, however, with strong winds and rain for most of the day. But this didn’t deter the badgers who spent from 6.25am to 6.58 this morning mating – and apologies to them for my lack of discretion. Mating occurs soon after this year’s cubs have been born:

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It always seems to involve the male doing a lot of biting of the female’s neck which looks painful but doesn’t appear to bother her. There is delayed impregnation in Badgers – any cubs resulting from this pairing will not be born until January 2020.

But what about this animal below that was outside the Badger sett in the very early hours of this morning?:

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In order to judge size, here it is uncropped:

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And here is a Badger in more or less the same spot, also uncropped:

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The mystery animal is right in front of a Badger sett. Could it be a baby Badger who has toddled out of the tunnel? Since Badgers don’t store food, the mother badger will have to leave the babies unattended while she goes out to find food for herself. I don’t really know what it is but that is probably my best guess. Any better ideas, please let know.

Word about the occasional placing of meal worms in the Mustelid box has got around the Wood Mouse community. Here are four of them in there:

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And I am still trying to get a good photo of the Pygmy Shrew. I think this is the best one yet:

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We leave the meadows today with this comedy photo of the dog:

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In the woods, the Kestrel box has gone up into position:

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We are pleased with where it is, with a clear view out over farmland at the moment although we may need to do some pruning once the leaves come out.

The wood’s trail cameras have come up with some good photos over the last few days. These two birds below are Lesser Redpolls – Birch and Alder specialists who breed in the North and West of the UK but do come to the South and the East to overwinter. We certainly have a lot of Silver Birch for them here. They have red caps which you would be able to see if they were looking at us:

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It was good to see several different bird species coming to drink at the new pond:

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As we walk round the wood, we often put up Woodcock – sometimes as many as four on one visit – so it was great that one got caught on camera:

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And cropped in a bit:

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What a fantastic bird.

Finally for today, we have been seeing a lot of male Pheasants on the trail cameras, but here for the first time is a female as well:

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Isn’t this the sort of photo you could use for a caption competition?

 

 

 

 

Attempting to Help

For four weeks now we have been putting out honey sandwiches with medicine dripped onto them to try to help a Fox with mange. But, frustratingly, we have missed the intended target on every single day. The trouble is that the Fox visits at different times and every day our healthy resident Foxes get to the sandwiches first.

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Some of our resident Foxes.

We have also seen the mangey Fox out and about during the day and it is difficult indeed to watch its condition worsening while our attempts to help it are proving so inadequate.

Here it is this morning under the bird feeders:

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Here it is when we first saw this Fox a month ago, showing how much worse it has got since then:

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I had a long phone conversation today with a lady from Kent Wildlife Rescue on Sheppey and her suggestion was to build a shelter. This Fox is not part of the population of Foxes who live on the cliff here in warm burrows and it is probably in need of somewhere to go to keep warm. As it gets sicker, it will need shelter more urgently. If we build a shelter and it uses it, we can put the sandwiches near the shelter for it. Or maybe she can come and try to catch it in there. She also suggested putting some of the sandwiches out during the day when it is only the mangey Fox that is out and about, although the Crows and Magpies will then be an issue of course.

This seemed like a very good plan and, within the hour, we were out there building a shelter in the copse of trees close to the feeders where we filmed the Fox this morning.

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An old side table
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A load of insulation packing saved from our Gousto food deliveries. Thick wadding sheets of sheep wool, each with a plastic surround. We were wondering what we were going to do with it all.
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Some of the sheeps wool packaging goes down on the floor still in the plastic. Then, some old carpet.
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While the rest comes out of the plastic to be warm bedding and roof insulation.
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Some bubble wrap as well. What a mess!
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Now some roofing felt over the top.
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Lots of branches pulled over it, whilst still leaving the entranceway clear. Also, a trail camera was trained on the entrance to see if there is any interest. 

It was good to have something positive to do to try to help and we will now cross our fingers and see if it works. The mild winter until now has meant that the mange-causing insects haven’t been killed off by the cold. However, our healthy Foxes will be protected whilst they continue to eat all those honey sandwiches that we are putting out.

Before leaving the subject of Foxes, here is one going over the gate:

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Robins seem very prominent at the moment and are prepared to get very close. How lovely they are:

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Dog and Robin.

The camera in the Mustelid box is not taking very good photos of something as small as a Pygmy Shrew, but these photos do still show what a really quite extraordinary nose they have:

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Moving on to the Wood, it seems that we were hopelessly naive in assuming that Rabbits don’t like eating conifers. The Nordmann Fir baby bare-root Christmas Trees we planted a fortnight ago had been terribly nibbled.

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It was time to construct a rabbit-proof enclosure to keep them out:

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Digging a trench.
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Banging in the posts.

 

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Almost complete. Still outstanding is to attach a tight wire along the top of the chicken wire to stop sagging.

With snow on the ground today, we couldn’t see any rabbit tracks within the enclosure so maybe this has worked:

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It is always fun to look for animal tracks when it has snowed:

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Pheasant and Fox

Here are some more photos from the woods over the last couple of weeks:

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The track leading up to the wood.

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Weasel.

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The Kestrel Box has now arrived and the next job over this coming weekend is to get that up. Should be fun.

A Winter Chill

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It has been properly cold out there recently and here are some wintery photos taken by the trail camera at the hide pond:

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The male Sparrowhawk was at the side of the pond for more than ten minutes trying in vain to take a bath:

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This morning there was a widespread frost:

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Everything was briefly turned into a wonderland until the sun rose up and properly got going:

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This is a Badger at the end of a long night doing what Badgers do best – messing around in soil chasing worms:

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But this next photo, taken at 1pm in the middle of the day, is very unusual behaviour indeed for the Badgers here and leads me to suspect that cubs may have just been born underground.

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I include this photo taken at the Badger sett because this Fox looks so magnificent and healthy:

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This one, too, looks wet but in great fettle:

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But that is more than can be said for the poor mangey fox who is still visiting the peanuts most nights but at such varying times that it has proved impossible so far to put the medicine out at the right time so that the correct Fox gets it:

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I need to seek further advice from the National Fox Welfare Society to see what they suggest.

Meanwhile bird species number 72 has made a grand entrance into our lives here. A bright green ring-necked Parakeet has been around for a few days  although to date we have failed to get a photo. It is not a bird to keep a low profile – so noisy and flamboyant. We knew that there was a population of them up in Thanet but it is the first time that we have seen one here.

One last photo from the meadows for today is a Kestrel – first time we have seen her on the gate:

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In the woods, we were so excited to discover a Badger sett in a part of the wood we hadn’t really explored. It is a single tunnel dug under a mass of bramble:

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We put all three trail cams that we are using in the wood around the hole and got some lovely woodland shots:

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Then, at last, the photo we had been hoping for:

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An idea that we had read in one of our woodland books was to plant some bare-rooted Christmas trees, grow them on and in a few years we will be able to cut down our own trees to bring into the house. That seemed like such a good idea that we thought we would get going straight away and so have bought fourteen very small Nordmann Fir to plant up.

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We haven’t given them any protection against Rabbits on the assumption that Rabbits won’t like them but we will have to see how that goes.  We are such beginners in woodland management – although we have now both signed up to a coppicing course in the autumn which should help. Until then we will continue to watch and learn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The January Lull

Things are very quiet out there. Badgers go into torpor in the deep winter, still appearing every night but they are active for much shorter times. Any young badgers this year will be born in a couple of weeks in late January and will then stay warm underground until mid April.

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The mangey Fox is still with us but we are yet to put the honey sandwiches laced with medicine out at such a time that he gets some.

Here he is arriving at the peanuts earlier than expected and before we had put the sandwiches out:

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Then, when we did put them out that evening, here is a perfectly healthy Fox with a mouth stuffed full of medicated honey sandwiches. They won’t do it any harm, but they were intended elsewhere:

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It’s frustrating. The medicine is very mild and needs to be taken every day for a minimum of three weeks to have an effect. Currently the chances of us managing that seem very slim, although we will keep trying.

Our Fox woes continue with one of our regular Foxes turning up with this injury last night. They live such precarious lives.

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Yesterday we did the winter pruning of the apple and pear trees in the orchard. The idea is to prune so that you could fly a pigeon through the heart of the tree if you wanted to. A goblet shape will allow good air circulation that will keep them healthier.

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Lots of lovely fruit wood has now been made available for dead hedging.

We noticed seed heads on the ground from Old Man’s Beard (wild clematis, Clematis vitalba).

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Old Man’s Beard is a chalk specialist and it scrambles all over the hedgerows here. As well as Ivy berries, it is another important mid to late winter food source for Goldfinch and Greenfinch and it is lovely to see evidence of it being used.

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The seed heads in the hedgerow

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We are trying to rapidly educate ourselves in the management of woods. But all the advice we have read for new owners is to do nothing other than observe and enjoy for the the first complete year. Well, we can do that!

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However, there were some things that we wanted to get up and running as soon as possible. One of these to get some nest boxes up. We now have put into place two Barn Owl boxes, a Tawny Owl box and six smaller bird boxes around the wood.

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The second Barn Owl box goes up in the Sycamore coppice.
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The Tawny box goes up in an Oak
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One of the smaller boxes.

We also wanted to introduce some freshwater quickly and easily so that we can then take our time to decide where to build a proper pond. This sturdy plastic bath looks a bit odd but it is a work-in-progress so suspend judgement until we have finished!

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We have also dug in this shallower painters tray with a sloping base and deeper section which we hope will be used by birds to drink and bathe:

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There was previously no water available in the wood or the surrounding area and so we are trying these cheap, cheerful and simple solutions as a starting point. In fact, the only other water we have found here is this pool in the centre of a coppice:

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Yesterday we cut our first coppice to provide some posts for dry hedging and were really surprised how much wood just a single coppice provided:

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That should certainly be enough for now.

I have moved some trail cameras across to the wood from the meadows. I trained one on this area of holey ground:

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And this is what we got (which probably surprises no one)

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It has been quite calm and reasonably mild recently but much colder weather is forecast shortly. It will be interesting to see what changes that brings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year, New Habitat

A Fox with mange has come to eat some peanuts for three nights on the trot:

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This is not one of our resident foxes but, if it continues to regularly come here, then perhaps we can help it. There is a homeopathic liquid called Arsen Sulphur that I bought three years ago from Helios Homeopathy when the resident foxes here got mange, having been recommended to do so by the National Fox Welfare Society. Each night for six weeks we made three rounds of jam sandwiches, put a few drops of this liquid on each one and then cut them up into little squares. I phoned Helios again now who confirmed that my left-over liquid would still be alright.

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As it got to dusk last night, I made the sandwiches up (using honey instead of jam – maybe it does have some in-built antiseptic properties as is often claimed? It feels more natural, anyway) and put them out with the peanuts.

This morning, I see that the Fox did visit again last night, but only after the other Foxes had got there first and eaten all the sandwiches. It won’t do these healthy Foxes harm but I do need to change my tactics in order to reach my intended target. Since this Fox is not part of the normal group here, maybe it will only visit once they have been and gone and so perhaps the sandwiches should go out an hour or two after the peanuts.

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Last night – peanuts still there but honey sandwiches all gone when this Fox visits

This is what I will try tonight, then.

Going through the videos yesterday, I have the following two screenshots:

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The Fox was yawning but the Badger was just exercising his jaws – I have never seen a Badger yawn and presume that they don’t do so. They do love to have a jolly good scratch though:

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As the winter progresses and the hedgerows are increasingly getting stripped of berries, it is interesting to see what the birds are finding to eat. This Blackbird has an Ivy berry here. These berries don’t ripen until mid to late winter and so form a vital food source to bridge the hunger gap in late winter when everything else has gone.

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We don’t have a Walnut tree here but there are some in the vicinity. I just don’t know how this Magpie is going to open this nut though – walnuts are so tough and surely its beak is not that powerful?

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When we bought these meadows, we had a long and steep learning curve to climb. Now, four years on, we feel that we are ready for a new challenge. To this end, on 3rd January, we completed on the purchase of a six acre wood near Canterbury. It is quite a diverse wood with about two acres of it having been cut and replanted with native trees within the last ten years. The more mature four acre section has a central heart of Silver Birch and other areas of Hazel and Willow coppice along with sporadic mature Beech, Oak, Sycamore and Sweet Chestnut trees. It’s a lovely wood.

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The Silver Birch centre
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Presumed Buzzard nest in one of the Silver Birch.
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Male Ferns in amongst the Silver Birch.
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Old Man’s Beard tangle.
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Massive Sycamore coppice.

We have got up and running straight away by ordering two Barn Owl boxes, a Tawny Owl box, a Kestrel box and six smaller bird boxes and we will be getting these up over the next week or so:

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Getting one of the Barn Owl boxes up into position.

It is a really exciting to have a new and very different habitat to learn about and we will be working to try to encourage as much biodiversity here as we can. This blog will now cover the wildlife happenings of Walmer Meadows and Walmer Wood and I am really looking forward to seeing what 2019 is going to bring.